The Insiders’ Guide to Employee Communications

By Poppulo

Table of Contents

How employee communications can drive open dialogue in organizations

Employees want to have a voice and be listened to; to be respected and involved. They want communication to be open, honest, trusting and two-way. Here’s how to communicate, what to communicate,and how to listen (perhaps the most important communication skill of all.)

1. How to Communicate: Use the 4 Ps to organize how you explain whatever issue you’re dealing with

Purpose: What is it that you’re trying to accomplish? As Simon Sinek says, start with Why? Beyond mission and vision, what exactly are you trying to do? This is the case for virtually any issue we need to communicate. So start with 'what is the purpose?'. Imagine if every meeting or conference started with that clear question, what is the purpose of this meeting and what are we trying to achieve, what do we want to accomplish?

Picture: We need to paint pictures, to use visual metaphors, words, images, facts, data, because people have different ways in which they like to communicate. Some are word nerds while others prefer more visual images and data. Remember Martin Luther King when he wanted to speak about the state of racial inequality. Instead of a presentation of facts and data, he painted a powerful picture of his desired environment: “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood”. This evocative imagery inspires – words inform, pictures inspire, and that’s why we need to paint a picture.

Plan: We need to share our plan. How are we going to realize our purpose? Some leaders don’t believe in sharing their plans, but people need to know how we’re going to achieve the aspirations, goals and ambitions we set out. We have to give them a plan, set out the path to the destination we want to get to.

Part: We’ve got to give people a part to play. This is really essential: if you leave out the ‘part’ people will make up their own and they will feel they don’t have any skin in the game. Ideally, when you give people the part. You want them to play allow them to define at least some of it – engage them. This is one of the ways we achieve effective engagement – giving people agency for the way they do their work.

In summary: use the 4 Ps as the organizing principle for whatever it is you’re communicating or talking about:

  • Set out your purpose
  • Paint a picture using visual metaphors
  • Set out your plan for how you’re going to get from A to B
  • Engage people by giving them a part to play

2. What to communicate? CORE: Changes, Objectives, Reasons, Effect

Changes: What’s changing or needs to change for us to realize our purpose? How does this change affect what we’re doing as an organization?

Objectives: What are the objectives we want to accomplish as a result of the changes and how do those changes relate to our overall organizational objectives?

Reasons: This is the Why and the Why is essential. Why are we going about these set of changes instead of doing something else? Why have we done what we set out to do?

Effect: Finally we want to describe the effect. What effect will all of this have on us, on our organization, on the communities in which we live and work?

Ask yourself if any of the above are typically left out of most corporate communications: consistently we see that ‘reasons’ and ‘effects’ are not communicated, or not communicated well enough.

This is often due to fear: organizations are afraid of explaining the ‘Why’ in case people disagree with them, and they don’t want to explain the Effect because they fear people will see them as a negative.

But for the most part people can handle bad news. What they can’t handle is not knowing. So, strongly encourage leaders to make sure they’re fulfilling all the Core elements, because if they don’t there will be a void in the communications and, people being people, they will fill that void with their own stuff, which usually means them going to the worst-case scenario.

So when we give the complete Core we are forestalling these issues and getting out ahead of them, which is one of the first rules of public relations: get out ahead of the issue, don’t let things to be discovered on their own.

Use the 4Ps and Core together:

  • Here’s what the future looks like (Picture/Changes)
  • Here’s the plan for us to WIN! (Plan/Objectives)
  • Here’s the part you need to play (Part/Effects)
  • Here’s why we did it and how you can help (Reasons/Objectives/Part)

These are not meant to work in isolation:

Start with your purpose, what it is you’re trying to achieve. And then jump over to the Core and fill in the Changes, Reasons and Effects and then come back and use the 4Ps to communicate the Core.

  • When we’re looking at the future we paint a picture of the changes that are taking place or need to take place
  • We share a plan to illustrate how we’re going to realize the objectives
  • And when we’re giving people a part to play we describe the part in terms of the effect it’s going to have on them
  • This is what we’ve done or are going to do and this is how you can help, (reasons, objectives and part).

3. How to Listen: HEAR - Honor, Echo, Ask, Respond

Honor: Honor others and what they say to you. Show them respect by really listening to them, with eye contact, and not multitasking or looking at your phone etc while they are speaking to you. Invest the time in honoring them and they will engage better.

Echo: Echo what they say to make sure you understand. Paraphrase and repeat what they say so they know you’re listening and understand exactly what they’re trying to get across. This skill is very valuable when you’re trying to create dialogue.

Ask: Ask questions, probe, inquire, draw them out. Make sure you ask questions so you extract the issues that might be concerning the person you’re talking to, but which they might find difficult to articulate. Ask questions to seek out what the issues are; just as Michelangelo said the statue was inside the block of marble and it was the sculptors job to reveal it. Asking great questions is how you create great dialogue – whether you’re a leader or a peer you need to know how to productively and respectfully engage others.

Respond: Respond without anger or defensiveness – and supportively with encouragement, even when what you’re hearing is negative. We should respond in ways that encourages dialogue and discussion, not shut it down or discourage it.

When you honor, echo, ask and respond, that is how you start to create a culture of dialogue. It demonstrates to others that you are genuinely interested in what it is that they have to say.

4. SEE and recognize ‘resistance’ as a real gift – it reveals problems that we might not have anticipated with our communications.

  • Listen to WHAT people are saying – don’t judge.
  • Draw people out – do not block, defend or argue. Ask specific questions.
  • Find out exactly what they object to – let them tell you.
  • Find solutions by focusing on results: “What has to happen to change the outcome?”

Instead of just letting people vent, ask specific questions of specific people.

If they say what the company is proposing is just another flavor of the month, that it was tried before and didn’t work, ask them what went wrong last time and what changes would need to be made in order to make it work this time out. “What in your mind could we do differently now?”

When we approach resistance in this fashion we change the terms of the discussion.

The person or persons you’re talking to in an organization wants to feel that they have a voice, and we need to support it, because the state of employee voice is what leads to engagement in your organization over time. The more we can do to help people speak up and speak out, the better off we will all be.

This section is based on a Poppulo webinar with Sean Williams, Instructor, Bowling Green St. University: How IC can drive real, open, honest conversations in your organization.

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